The Measure of Our Happiness

By H. Patricia Hynes

Originally published on April 3, 2019 on  COMMON DREAMS


As in past years, the Department of Defense (DOD) is allocated an increase and the lion’s share in the proposed budget (more than 60%), while every other department and agency that contributes to Americans’ daily well being is cut.
Photo: Shutterstock

For the past seven years, the United Nations has issued a report titled the World Happiness Report.  While this report may sound somewhat lightweight, it actually ranks countries by serious measures including income, freedom, trust in government, social support, life expectancy and how happy citizens perceive themselves to be.  The highest-ranking countries are those, we learn, that have “strong social welfare systems and an emphasis on equality.”

I was not surprised to learn that in 2019 our country fell in rank from 18th to 19th in the report.  Despite our high employment, millions of working people hold 2 jobs to pay bills and are an illness away from bankruptcy.  Moreover, we have seen a steady increase in the number of hate groups, the majority being white male supremacist groups, over the past 3 years coinciding with President Trump’s campaign and presidency.  In his recent manifesto, the Australian-born murderer of 50 New Zealand Muslims at worship in mosques attributed Trump as the “symbol of renewed white identity.”

While some may protest that the United States is a more complex society with a higher rate of immigrants, Canada, which has a higher percent of foreign-born residents than the US, ranks higher in the recent UN report.  So also do Britain and Germany with comparable percentages of foreign-born residents as the US.

A recent study of hundreds of federal government policies found that most policies adopted by our government are those that favor the economic elite and business interests.

Let us consider some other factors that might cause us to fall lower on the World Happiness Index than other democratic countries, less wealthy than our own.  A recent study of hundreds of federal government policies found that most policies adopted by our government are those that favor the economic elite and business interests.  Only when the general public’s interests coincide with powerful business corporations do our interests get served. Consider also that our life expectancy has dropped over the past year due to drug overdoses and suicides among white men in the late 40s and 50s – a tragic sign of something, maybe hopelessness or a sense of no future that plagues some in our country.

Countries can also be judged by the way they treat their children, so let’s consider our own.  While the US is among the wealthiest nations in the world, it has a higher rate of child poverty than other wealthy countries.  Why? Compared to other wealthy countries, our government underinvests in its poor children and their families and this leads to higher persistent child poverty and poor child health, poor educational outcomes, and no exit out of poverty. 

Budgets are moral documents and they mirror the values and priorities of a country.  

So let us look at US values and priorities through the lens of President Trump’s proposed discretionary budget for 2020.

As in past years, the Department of Defense (DOD) is allocated an increase and the lion’s share in the proposed budget (more than 60%), while every other department and agency that contributes to Americans’ daily well being is cut:

  • 31% decrease for the Environmental Protection Agency:  Think climate change, lead in drinking water, clean air, clean water and hazardous waste.
  • 22% decrease for Department of Transportation: According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the US infrastructure, including roads, bridges, dams, and airports gets a D+ grade.
  • 16.4% decrease for Department of Housing and Urban Development, while ½ million Americans are homeless and Section 8 waiting lists for affordable housing range from 1 to 5 years.
  • 12% cut in Health and Human Services, despite the opioid addiction crisis.
  • 12% cut in Department of Education: US education quality is falling when compared to most developed and even lesser developed countries in annual international testing of high school students.
  • Department of Energy: 2/3rds cut in wind power research; 92% cut in research on energy efficiency in buildings.

All I can recommend for lifting the well-being of those harmed by the budget priorities of this administration is this:  Vote an alternative in 2020.

The military budget assures the economic health of defense contractors and pours our tax money into the Pentagon’s ongoing masculinist goal of maintaining military superpower status (championed by both Democrats and Republicans), even after two decades of failed wars.  Yet it does not prioritize its soldiers and veterans. Veterans commit suicide at twice the rate of non-military citizens, and they have a higher rate of homelessness, particularly veterans of color and women vets. A recent survey of military families portrays slum-like conditions with mold, lead and rodents in military housing.  Concurrently, environmental studies expose extensive groundwater and drinking water contamination at US bases, most notably from fire-fighting chemicals, which the Pentagon considers too expensive to remedy.

All I can recommend for lifting the well-being of those harmed by the budget priorities of this administration is this:  Vote an alternative in 2020. Scrutinize candidates for their position on reducing the defense budget; raising the minimum wage to a living wage; eliminating violence against women, people of color and immigrants; providing universal health care; and putting more of our tax money into affordable housing, quality education, repair of roads and bridges, safe drinking water, clean up of hazardous wastes and the climate crisis.  Otherwise, states turn to casinos and sports betting (which can give temporary highs but not lasting well-being) to fill the holes in our social safety net.

Pat Hynes, a retired Professor of Environmental Health from Boston University, directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice.http://traprock.org]


Source URL:https://www.portside.org/2019-04-03/measure-our-happiness

Death and Taxes? On choosing life with a Green New Deal

By Anna Gyorgy

It’s that time again. When taxes are due and we can again consider how they are used. Here’s a case for turning our national budget away from war, destruction and corporate enrichment towards reconstruction and reparations, under the umbrella concept of a Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal legislation, sponsored in the House of Representatives by the dynamic youngest member of congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and in the Senate by our own Ed Markey, is gaining wide support – despite Republican jeers.

House Resolution 109: “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal,” calls for a new turn in our country. It does not include specific legislation at this point. Which is good, as it allows for broad discussion of the goals and means presented.

It is worth taking the time to read the text of this bill, written in clear English, online at:

https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-resolution/109/text

It opens by mentioning two major reports issued last fall that detail current climate degradation and make clear that the window for stabilizing the planet’s climate enough to prevent massive and irreversible damage is closing.

The resolution mentions that the US helped create the problem: through 2014 this country, with a world population of just 4 percent, has been responsible for 20 percent of greenhouse gas pollution.

The goals and mobilization the Green New Deal describes go way beyond calling for technical fixes around energy. The goals include economic and racial justice, calling for well-paying jobs in a healthy environment, as part of “a Green New Deal (that) must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.”

‘‘Green New Deal goals’’ should be accomplished through a 10-year national mobilization that would see the “repairing and upgrading the infrastructure in the United States” to make it energy efficient, moving to 100% renewable energy. Also mentioned, and of interest in our area, is:  “working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is techno-logically feasible, including— by supporting family farming; by investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health; and by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.”

The comprehensive Green New Deal resolution provides a framework to work on and for. Of course, it’s not as if the public has been blind to the dangers of climate disruption. And citizen action has in fact set the scene for a Green New Deal. Hundreds of thousands have demonstrated, and major campaigns have seen arrests, injuries and citizen bravery against destructive fossil fuel projects, at Standing Rock, the XL pipeline protests, ‘our own’ Kinder-Morgen fracked gas pipeline, and many more.

But the changes needed must go beyond divesting from fossil fuel companies and “keeping (oil, gas and coal) in the ground.” We live in a system where preparation for and participation in war takes the vast majority of our this country’s national income and so many resources, human and natural as well as economic.

What will really bring us security, locally and nationally? A healthy population in a clean environment, doing meaningful work in a more egalitarian society? Or an economy so tied to weapons of war that cause such death and destruction? The effects, and costs, of their use in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, along with the 800 plus US bases around the world will be with us, and the many countries involved, for decades to come.

What to do? Actions vary. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) “supports individuals who refuse to pay for war, and promotes war tax resistance in the context of a broad range of nonviolent strategies for social change.” Peace Tax advocates are lobbying the US Congress to pass a Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill allowing conscientious objection to paying taxes for war with alternative tax payment programs. Internationally there are protests in many countries, including our own, during the Global Campaign on Military Spending’s days of action from April 13 to May 9th, under the slogan: Demilitarize: Invest in People’s Needs!

Certainly, the Green New Deal presents many of those social and ecological needs, and should be checked out by all as we face the current reality of fossil-based militarism and ‘endless growth,’ making the climate situation ever worse. There are alternatives.

This guest editorial was submitted to area papers on April 2, 2019.
Anna Gyorgy from Wendell is on the Traprock Center board and the Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution (FCCPR) peace task force.

https://www.gp.org/green_new_deal

The Green New Deal originated as a Green Party concept and program. “The European Greens were among those calling for a Green New Deal in 2006 in response to the global financial crisis. In addition to a call for both climate action and a bill of economic rights, the approach by the European Greens sought to democratize the world’s financial system. In New York State, Howie Hawkins promoted a Green New Deal in his 2010 Green Party run for Governor – an issue focus that subsequently was picked up by Jill Stein in her 2012 Presidential campaign and by many other Green Party candidates across the United States.”

Biology Is Not Destiny: “The Independent Woman: Extracts from The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir”

By H. Patricia Hynes

Originally published on Truthdig, on March 8, 2019

“The Independent Woman: Extracts from The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir”

A book translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. Annotated and introduced by Martine Reid

“The Second Sex,” a two-volume classic by French writer Simone de Beauvoir, was published in 1949 and quickly became an eminent—some contend the preeminent—book in the pantheon of 20th century feminist and existentialist writings. Like the biologist Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” (1962), “The Second Sex” kindled a revolution across the Western world that is ablaze today in the global quest for women’s human rights, as witnessed by the January 2017 Women’s March on every continent, including Antarctica. De Beauvoir’s core proposition animates every page: The subordination and inequality of women is not our fate by reason of our biology; it is a gendered construct of society that has been accepted as natural (by most men and women) for millennia.

Like a sower scattering seeds, de Beauvoir planted an abundance of critical thinking that fed the feminist revolution in consciousness and activism of the 1960s and ’70s—popularly known as the Second Wave of Feminism. As with all radical social movements, debates and challenges ensued and persist. But the iconic message irrevocably lives: Biology is not destiny. The reduction of women to the feminine, sexualized lesser sex is an artifice constructed of vested prejudices that deprive women (and the world) of our fullest existence.

A small book of selected extracts from “The Second Sex” has now been released under the title “The Independent Woman.” It offers a trail studded with gems of insight, from which I cull a few to comment on today’s events, findings and social thinking regarding girls and women. Entwined within the extracts are a radical timelessness of feminist analysis and the shortcomings of a period piece.

“Humanity is male,” writes de Beauvoir, “and man defines woman not in herself, but in relation to himself: she is not considered an autonomous being. … [T]he male sex sees her essentially as a sexed being. … He is a Subject. … She is the Other.” Here, however, she is not referring explicitly to widespread sexual violence against women, including stalking, sexual harassment, rape, pimping and exploitation of women in prostitution, lack of reproductive freedom and other violations of women’s bodies, psyches and souls. Rather she is signifying the condition of women: essentialized since birth into domestic and passive feminine roles and, as her contemporary Virginia Woolf wrote in “A Room of One’s Own,” serving “all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.”

De Beauvoir then describes the tangled web in which women, unlike any other oppressed group, live intimately with their oppressors and often collude in their own oppression: “They live dispersed among men, tied by homes, work, economic interests and social conditions to certain men—fathers and husbands—more closely than to other women.” She describes with great nuance the detritus of inequality among intimates, banalized in popular culture as the “battle between the sexes.”

Click here to read long excerpts from “The Independent Woman” at Google Books.

Her prescription for liberation and equality is straightforward: Do what self-realized men have done. Seek a comparable education and aspire to excel. Set high goals for yourself in work and career; don’t fall prey to self-limiting messages from home, school, the workplace, society and your own internalized version of sex-based inferiority. Stellar messages to girls and women, but are they sufficient?

A recent nationally representative poll of 1,000 U.S. children and adolescents 10-19 reveals that while many girls and young women have sought and achieved substantial gains in precisely these prescriptions for achieving fulfillment, a riptide of sexual objectification persists, as if to undermine their pursuit of equality and excellence. “For me,” responded 13-year old Hiree Felema, “it’s important to be intelligent and confident. For women, in society, I think people just want you to be attractive”—an insight echoed by many girls surveyed. Girls reported as much interest in math and science as boys and slightly more in leadership, yet they did not feel equal with respect to their bodies. Three-quarters of teenage girls felt judged for their looks and unsafe as a female, including from sexual predators online. Many reported boys asking for nude photos, daily hearing sexual comments or jokes from boys in school and from men in their families. And, interestingly, girls felt more pressure to be kind than boys did, reflecting society’s stubborn, sex-based stereotypes of what is valued in women but not necessarily in men.

In 2017 the Pew Charitable Trust surveyed 4,573 Americans about what society values and (and doesn’t) in men and women. “Power,” “leadership,” and “honesty” were positive attributes in men, whereas “power” and “ambition” were largely seen as negative in women. “Compassionate,” “kind” and “responsible” were qualities viewed positively for women, while “emotion” and “compassion” largely ranked negatively for men. Just half of respondents chose “independence” in women and “caring” in men as positive traits. “Beauty” was valued for women, while “provider,” exclusively for men. Two hopeful results among the otherwise timeworn gender-based stereotypes: “Brain” was valued in women; and “sexism,” negatively in men.

In the confirmation hearings of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, we had a riveting view of the outfall of privilege for entitled men who pander in unrestrained displays of anger, self-righteousness and ambition over the moderated self-presentation of women. Had Dr. Christine Blasey Ford “spoken with the same tone and flippancy [as Kavanaugh], she would have been described as unstable or combative,” notes former Republican governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman. Her prescription: Increase the number of women in leadership roles (something that white, married conservative women—identifying more with white men than other women—appear reluctant to do, judging from their voting patterns).

Since “The Second Sex,” the ascendancy of women has proven to be both more challenging than just imitating successful, “autonomous” men, as even aspiring 11- and 12-year-old girls know, and more complex than de Beauvoir proposed. Recent studies of women in leadership in public and private sectors have concluded that women in high-level positions and on boards deal more effectively with risk, focus more strategically on long-term priorities, and are more successful financially. Experimental studies of women and men negotiating post-conflict agreements have found that all-male groups take riskier, less empathetic and more aggressive positions, and they break down more quickly than negotiations that include women. Further, men are more satisfied with decisions made when women are involved than with all-male groups.

Parsing these findings, many women, educated like men and in comparable positions of influence, integrate qualities of their socialized development—compassion, not acting rashly or aggressively, a sense of responsibility—as assets into their leadership. In other words, they set more integrated, smart and nuanced goals for themselves than merely imitating men, and have succeeded where men have not.

The lesson in this, insufficiently probed in “The Second Sex” as reflected in “The Independent Woman,” is that men need to work as hard and as persistently for their liberation from masculinism (especially the normative sexual objectification of women) as women have strived for our equality. As the Buddhist critic and teacher Lama Rod Owens writes, “Like white people challenging whiteness, it is men who must do the work of understanding that a significant portion of our identity is based on a toxic, patriarchal masculinity.” [We need] “a widespread divestment in patriarchy and a complete interrogation of the ethics of power. We all have work to do.”

Reaching our full human capacity is the task of both sexes. If that were achieved, the world—riven with wars, endangered by nuclear weapons and climate change, rent by increasing economic inequality and declining democracy, under almost exclusive male leadership—will have a far better chance of survival.

Men their rights and nothing more: Women their rights and nothing less.—Susan B. Anthony, 1868


Hands off Venezuela

By Pat Hynes,
Traprock Center for Peace and Justice

Hope and US Aid at the Border, the title of a recent New York Times video, deodorizes the US attempt to overthrow President Maduro of socialist Venezuela and replace him with a hand-picked member of the Venezuelan elite, capitalist class.  

As the major media presents it, the US is altruistically rushing to feed a people in economic crisis. And, of course, our government knows what is best for the Venezuelan people (just as we did for Afghani, Iraqi and Vietnamese peoples). Yet, photos of mass rallies reveal that millions of darker-skinned – indigenous and mixed-race Venezuelans, of poorer classes support their elected president, while smaller numbers of white descendants of early Spanish colonizers back the US-selected and designated new president, a legislator named Juan Guiado.  Our troops and aid anywhere near Venezuela smell like regime change.

How to make sense of this?

First, let’s acknowledge a major contradiction at the heart of our Trojan horse of “humanitarian aid” at the Venezuelan border.  Trump has fixated on pulling the US out of UN treaties, UN agencies, maybe NATO, Syria and Afghanistan, with the mantra that we need to stop fixing the world.  Why then stir up a new conflict in South America? If we want to give aid, give it through the Red Cross, already in Venezuela.

Second, what menace is Venezuela to us?  None at all, but as with Cuba, the US government is struck apoplectic by socialism, as if it is a threat to our national security.  Well maybe it is, if we consider national security in its truest sense of human well-being and security. Venezuela, like Cuba and the social democrat countries of Europe, dramatically lowered child poverty, infant mortality, illiteracy, and homelessness when compared to the wealthier US.  Here youth poverty, infant mortality, incarceration, income inequality and obesity are highest of all the developed countries.  

Further, if the Trump administration cares so about the looming economic crisis in Venezuela and the growing need for food and medications, why have they assisted Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen, which has generated the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Why have they left Puerto Rico to wither and waste away from the devastation of Hurricane Maria?  Why have they callously separated migrant children fleeing violence in Central American from their parents? And why has our government compounded its crushing economic sanctions on Venezuela, while offering crumbs in humanitarian aid.

Finally, it’s not possible to dissociate our intrusion into Venezuelan politics from oil, given that country has the largest proven oil reserves in the world.  National Security Advisor John Bolton couldn’t have been clearer when he recently broadcast that we are there to take Venezuela’s oil.  Have we learned nothing from our war in Iraq and the CIA-induced overthrow in 1953 of the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, after he nationalized Iran’s oil?

The arc of U.S. militarism across the 20th century and into the 21st is neither moral nor does it bend toward justice. At each end of this ongoing arc, the words of two military veterans of U.S. foreign wars distill and corroborate the US history of imperial reach. Brigadier General Smedley Butler, born in 1881, began his career as a teenage Marine combat soldier assigned to Cuba and Puerto Rico during the US invasion of those islands. He fought next in the US war in the Philippines, ostensibly against Spanish imperialism but ultimately against the Philippine revolution for independence. He gained the highest rank and a host of medals during subsequent US occupations and military interventions in Central America and the Caribbean, popularly known as the Banana Wars.

As Butler confessed in his iconoclastic book War Is a Racket, he was “a bully boy for American corporations,” making countries safe for U.S. capitalism. More an isolationist than anti-war, he nonetheless nailed the war profiteers – racketeers, in his unsparing lexicon – for the blood on their hands. War is the oldest, most profitable racket, he wrote – one in which billions of dollars are made for millions of lives destroyed.  

Making the world “safe for democracy” was, at its core, making the world safe for war profits. Of diplomacy Butler wrote, “The State Department…is always talking about peace but thinking about war.” He proposed an “Amendment for Peace”: In essence, keep military (Army, Navy, Air Force) on the continental U.S. for purpose of defense against military invasions here.   

In the 21st century, Major Danny Sjursen, who served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan, proposes that the Department of Defense should be renamed the Department of Offense. His reasons: American troops are deployed in 70 percent of the world’s countries; American pilots are currently bombing 7 countries; and the U.S., alone among nations, has divided the six inhabited continents into six military commands. Our military operations exceed U.S. national interests and are “unmoored” from reasoned strategy and our society’s needs, he concludes.

The enlightenment of another Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, Kevin Tillman, pierces the benighted world of Washington. “As one of the soldiers who illegally invaded Iraq…I know an illegal coup/invasion when I see one…if Venezuelans believe [their president] Maduro has mismanaged the nation’s most valuable asset [oil], it is their right to seek change, but this is not a right enjoyed by Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi or Elliot Abrams.”

Originally published on 2/27/2019 on Informed Comment:

https://www.juancole.com/2019/02/trojan-horse-venezuela.html

See also: https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/03/01/hands-venezuela

Hands Across the Hills story spreads far beyond Franklin County

Paula Green

By RICHIE DAVIS, Staff  Writer

Published: 2/12/2019 10:36:50 PM

LEVERETT – After a year of drawing attention solely from The Greenfield Recorder, this town’s Hands Across the Hills effort and its organizer, Paula Green, are in the spotlight nationally and internationally as an effort to help bridge the political – and now racial – divides in this country.

The project, organized by a “bridging committee” in the aftermath of the 2016 election, brought to Leverett a 11-member delegation from Letcher County, Ky. – where Donald Trump won 80 percent of the presidential vote, versus 14.5 percent here – for a three-day October, 2017, exploration of cultural and political differences.

New York Times article last week about Green and her career helping to resolve conflicts in Myanmar, Bosnia, Rwanda, Israel-Palestine and other flashpoints around the globe, winning her the 2009 designation as honored in 2009 by the Dalai Lama as an “unsung hero of compassion” from the Dalai Lama himself,  grew out of a “U.S. Peacebuilding Award of Excellence” last October  from the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Peacebuilding.

The Times article, which followed stories last November on National Public Radio’s “Here and Now” and in The Boston Globe, also led to a New Yorker article this week and came with the release of an hour-long documentary by ARTE TV, a German-French arts and cultural network, that was viewed by 7 million people in Europe and North Africa in which the Leverett-Kentucky project was described in the  broader context about polarization in American politics.

The program, with English subtitles, can be viewed at www.arte.tv/en/videos/075811-000-A/america-s-divided-soul. Efforts are being made to have an English version of the documentary shown on public television WGBH, said Green.

Another article, “The Same Hills, Two Americas,” about the Leverett-Kentucky effort, ran in the Dutch newspaper Trouw just before last November’s election.

“People are making up stories about ‘the other’ — Muslims, Trump voters, whoever ‘the other’ is,” Green told the Times. “‘They don’t have the values that we have. They don’t behave like we do. They are not nice. They are evil.’ ” But, she added, “That’s dehumanization. And when it spreads, it can be very hard to correct.”

Even as the Leverett contingent hopes to make arrangements for a second visit from Kentuckians for continued conversations this fall, a “Bridge for Unity” effort Green is coordinating is planning a presentation in Amherst Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. –  “Dialogues Across Race: South Carolina, Massachusetts, Kentucky” at the Unitarian Universalist Society, where they plan to share experiences from a recent interracial dialogue in South Carolina. 

“It is heartening,” said Green in response to the flurry of publicity the cross-cultural dialogue is finally getting, resulting in calls from California, Colorado and other parts of the country from people hungry to start cross-cultural bridging projects.

“People want to do this,” says Green, a founder of Amherst-based Karuna Center for Peacebuilding and the Conflict Transformation Across Cultures program at Vermont’s School for International Training. “They say, ‘We’re so divided. There’s so much pain, we need to do this work.” 

Beyond the interpersonal vision for Hands Across the Hills, helping people from both communities discover what they could begin to understand about one another, there’s also been an educational mission, to show the rest of the nation “This is worthwhile, this is important and doable,” says Green.

The Times article, which like the Arte documentary explained the dialogues in a larger context about American polarization, was met with comments from skeptical readers who Green says “want to hang onto their anger and hatred, who don’t want to let it go and try something else, because they’re comfortable and safe. We’re trying to say to people that dialogue is not the end, dialogue is the beginning. It makes other work possible and makes people doing the work much more passionate, because they know people from this other place, this other culture, other race, other place, who are suffering.”

Green, who worked as a co-facilitator at January’s cross-racial, cross-cultural gathering of 30 people from Western Massachusetts, Kentucky and South Carolina, says, “ It’s very important that people understand why we’re doing this in the biggest context.”She added that the conference in Beaufort, S.C., “was a powerful experience that exceeded my expectations in terms of honesty and intimacy. Talking about race and racism is harder and more delicate than politics because there’s a 400-year-old tragedy that’s never healed, and that continues to create undending pain within this country.”

These careful conversations need to be facilitated and they need to develop over time for trust in a safe, intimate setting to build understanding, Green said.   

But she added, “There’s a longing in our country for civil discourse. And more is going to come, because now it’s on the national stage. It’s a national conversation.”

On the Web: www.handsacrossthehills.org

Originally published in the Greenfield Recorder.

DISPATCHES: Back in Wendell, with climate thoughts and New Year’s wishes

By ANNA GYORGY

Originally published in the Montague Reporter
January 3, 2019

WENDELL – As readers of the Montague Reporter and the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice website know, I reported from Germany during November and December on citizen climate action and the UN climate conference held this year in December in Katowice, Poland.

This is my closing dispatch, back home in Wendell, preparing for the new year.

The challenge of this coming year, and every year after, will be a combination of preventing greater global climate disruption, and adjusting to what is already upon us. It’s a social and political challenge depending on major movement at municipal, state, national, and international levels.

Each December since 1977, the Society for the German Language issues its “Word of the Year.” In 2018, after a record summer of heat and drought in Europe, it was “Heiszeit” – Hot Age, rhyming with German “Eiszeit” or Ice Age.

Actually, there was a second “runner up” word as well, which folks in our neck of the woods can relate to: “Funkloch” – that “hole” within which there is no reception (“Funk”), Wi-Fi, or cell tower. Yes, that happens in Germany too, where one of the national discussions while I was there was about how the country has fallen behind in the digital age, less fully connected and online than others.

During December the Parliament discussed a new government subsidy to the states, which are responsible for education, to provide students with tablets for classroom.

Katowice: Worth the Effort?

There is ongoing discussion about the usefulness of the huge annual climate conferences. This one was the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP) since the process was agreed upon in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. There is the expense of hosting such a massive meeting, the polluting air flights, all the talk, and then the lack of action as the earth heats up at an alarming pace – even worse than scientists’ earlier projections.

But it does keep a focus on the problem. And here are just two results reported by climate justice activists who attended the COP24 in Poland this year:

The Gastivists’ monthly newsletter (www.gastivists.org) arrived full of news about the conference. Their panel discussion, “No room for fossil gas in a 1.5° C world,” brought together members of the UK anti-fracking resistance with Wanun Permpibul of Climate Watch Thailand, Antonio Zambrano Allende from the Movimiento Ciudadano Frente al Cambio Climático (MOCICC) in Peru, May Boeve from 350.org, and Cornell University methane scientist Bob Howarth.

They also managed to get a giant plastic gas pipeline into the COP, in an anti-gas demonstration. And they organized “a toxic tour of COP24 – guiding activists and journalists through the [conference’s] country stands to reveal what is really going on with their greenwashing efforts and their push for more gas infrastructure.”

And the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) announced: “We stopped nuclear power at the COP24 Global Climate Summit!” They tell the story of how “for the first week of the summit, the nuclear industry was given free rein to promote its poison power, hijacking the focus of the COP24 Global Climate Summit. NIRS and the Don’t Nuke the Climate coalition put out an urgent call to action from Poland, with a petition calling for 100% renewable energy and no subsidies or financing for nuclear power.”

Germany played an instrumental role. Thousands signed the petition against support for nuclear power, which was then accepted by Germany’s Environmental Minister, Svenja Schulze.

Her promise that Germany would oppose pro-nuclear policies in global climate negotiations and oppose financial support for nuclear under the Paris Climate Treaty “meant that nuclear power didn’t get written into the climate ‘rulebook’ countries negotiated at COP24,” NIRS reported. “And it means that Germany – one of the largest donors to the $100 billion Green Climate Fund – will not let any of that money go to nuclear power.”

It’s fair to say that safe-energy activists and organizations with the resources to make the trip to these conferences see themselves as part of an “inside-outside” strategy: “on the streets, and in the suites.” Many try to do both during the COPs, and their international networking with other activist attendees and delegates from concerned countries counts for a lot, too.

For official delegates from the Small Island Nations grouping, participation in the conferences is critical, as the very existence of their homelands is threatened. They need to pressure industrial states to take action, and pledge real money both for recovery from recent extreme climate events and for preparation, as soon as possible, for the future.

It’s Not Just Coal…

In her annual New Year’s address, German Chancellor Angela Merkel mentioned the “vital question” of climate change as her first and top issue.

That was a first, but this summer was a tipping point for much of Europe and the world. Germany experienced major drought: farmers suffered from lack of rain, and rivers receded, including the one I used to live near, the Rhine. Its bank became beaches, and its shallow depth limited the movement of such vital materials as gasoline and coal.


Rhine view, Bonn-Oberkassel, Dec. 2, 2018

A German energy research institute reported in mid-December that Germany is now getting 38% of its electricity from renewables, mostly (16%) from onshore wind. This compares to 20% use of renewable electricity in the US.

It seems like a good statistic, and renewables have now edged out coal use, but it still falls short of Germany’s goal for reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020.

The big energy fight now in Germany, an early leader in renewable energy, is around the continued mining and burning of coal, which I wrote about in my earlier dispatches.

The struggle to protect the 250-acre historic Hambacher Forest continues; the forest is still being occupied by hardy tree-dwellers, some rebuilding their impressive treehouses after their destruction in police raids this fall. A court decision has stopped clear-cutting the forest to expand open-pit coal mining, for now.

An Informed Public

One purpose of this last dispatch was to talk about how it feels to come back to this country, and differences in life here and there.

What I miss most here is a more truly public media, telling more than the latest news from Washington, although that is daily fare there as well. The news media in Germany is having big problems too, with many reporters laid off, and the challenges of instant news from social media.

But there, state-sponsored radio and TV stations offer varied news stories, reporting on citizen demonstrations, German Amazon workers striking before Christmas, as well as the French working people’s ongoing “yellow vest” protests demanding more democracy and the resignation of neoliberal President Emmanuel Macron.

The main German radio station features an international press review every morning… Of course, thanks to the Internet, I can tune into it here, but I would like it in English, too.

There are also more diverse voices heard there, and people seen, than here, where a virtual media blacklist keeps social critics and intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Chris Hedges, and others limited to the vibrant alternative media found mostly online, from Democracy Now! to the Intercept and others.

Prof. Chomsky’s recent 90th birthday was noted in various German newspapers; his occasional lectures at German universities are standing-room-only events – I attended two in past years.

A key reason for the openness to left and “alternative” voices and people is the multiplicity of political parties in Germany’s parliamentary system, which allows for proportional representation, as opposed to our “winner take all” two-party system.

State and national legislatures are open to political parties winning 5% or more of the vote in elections. As both the Green Party and Left Party have been in the national and many state legislatures for years now, their voices and politics are an accepted part of the national media.

A new right-wing party, the Alternative for Germany, with their anti-immigrant, avowedly nationalistic program, is now also in the federal and some state parliaments. This poses a problem for many, and a challenge to the other parties and the German public as a whole.

Another big difference in my life here and there is that there are (still) lots of trains in Germany, along with modern streetcars and subways in cities. But that is another issue, and perhaps another article, as during this visit I heard a lot about – and experienced myself – many delays, cancellations, and problems around train service.

But it is clear: there is no way to move millions of people satisfactorily without major public investment. As towns, cities, states and nations address the climate challenge, good and affordable public transportation has to be a priority.

The one painful part of my life in Wendell is that I depend on a car for transportation. I never had one in Germany, relying on my wonderful bike with an attachable bike cart for shopping, and on streetcars, subways, and trains for longer distances. It was great to hit the bikepaths of Bonn on my old “steed” once again. I’m too chicken, or too old, I guess, for the hills of Wendell.

 

DISPATCHES: After the UN Climate Conference: The meeting over, the movements growing

By Anna Gyorgy

Originally published in the Montague Reporter
December 17, 2018

German radio reported that 91% of Germans did not expect major advances from the 24th UN climate conference that ended late Saturday night December 15, in Katowice, Poland. But conference delegates did reach their basic goal, allowing relieved conference organizers to declare COP24 a success.

For after a long extra day and night of deliberations, delegates from almost 200 countries unanimously approved a detailed “rulebook” to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. In the huge Polish coalmine themed conference center (built on a closed one), they agreed to make national plans to limit global warming to 1.5° Celsius (2.7°F) compared to preindustrial times. That was the hoped-for goal in Paris. And one that will be hard to meet, given that the average temperature is now already at 1.1°C, and more than that in particularly vulnerable areas, like the Arctic.

At the beginning of the Katowice conference in early December there were 1908 places in the document marked with disagreements. On Saturday the last ones were settled, with a few delayed for future meetings. Next year’s climate conference will be in Chile, instead of Brazil, as planned. The incoming president there, archconservative Jair Bolsonaro, rejected the plan for Brazil, stating high costs and the limited time his government would have to prepare. However he is well known as no friend of the environment, having announced plans to further develop the Amazon for agriculture etc., a major ecological and climate threat.

But if the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement and setting targets for lowering emissions are now set, just how the very ambitious goal of controlling warming will be reached was not defined. The only mechanism to ensure that countries meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reduce emissions is the requirement to report regularly, publicly and following guidelines that apply to all countries. As a German commentator said (in English), for those not meeting their targets or setting ones not high enough, the ‘enforcement’ process amounts to “naming and shaming.”

There are also no fixed goals for phasing out fossil fuels, nor specific requirements or enforcement mechanisms. Contributions to the fund for affected countries are voluntary. So what happens now depends on the individual countries, and action on the local as well as national levels.

At least the conference results keep the UN and International process going. Even given the situation in Poland, with its strict, even repressive, regulations limiting demonstrations and civil society actions at and during the COP, the two-week event provided a forum for strong statements and protest, especially from island nations and climate activists present.

The speech and press statements of 15 year old Swedish student activist Greta Thunberg resonated especially, as she accused world leaders of “stealing our future” and called for student strikes around the world for action on climate.

US negotiators were present, as the Trump pullout from the Paris Agreement will only be official in January 2021. Although American delegates actively attempted to weaken the results, the leading German weekly news magazine Spiegel’s report concluded that “probably the most important result from Katowice is that the UN steamship was not forced off course even by the world power USA, and that the climate process continues – and all countries are taking part.”

Climate NGO Germanwatch policy director Christoph Bals agreed: “The achievement of Katowice is also a victory for multilateralism… The test will be implementation of the Paris Agreement. We need Government decisions for ambitious climate protection at home. The climate movement, that has developed worldwide from the (defense of the endangered German) Hambacher Forest to resistance against pipelines and student strikes, has also been present here in Katowice, and will be ever stronger and demand the necessary climate protection.”

And in the streets

Parallel to the conference in Poland, major blockades and demonstrations took place in French cities, with highway barricades preventing holiday shoppers from reaching towns and gas stations.

The first actions of the so-called ‘yellow vest’ activists started in mid-November in response to an announced increased tax on diesel gasoline. Identified by the emergency vests they wore, a safety requirement in French cars, the protesters organized over social media. Their actions were ‘spontaneous’ in not having defined leadership, organizations and meetings.

Touted by French President Emmanuel Macron as a way to reduce both pollution and gas consumption, the tax was seen by working people, especially in rural areas, as the last straw in a policy of taxation clearly benefiting the rich and large corporations. A tax that was accompanied by increasing closure of local state facilities, from post offices to the local rail lines. Support from both left and right militants and extreme violence, including from the police, has changed the nature and demands of the movement, but the issues it is raising remain.

The situation in France was reportedly a major topic of conversation during coffee breaks at the climate conference. It was clearly an example of a top-down measures, not part of a coherent plan to deal with transportation pollution or climate crisis. It was also perhaps a warning to decision-makers as to how not to force changes in lifestyle and costs connected with a renewable energy transition.

Meanwhile, new initiatives around climate action were being announced: in Washington by newly elected progressive Democrats presenting plans for a Green New Deal, and in the streets of London, with the new direct action movement Extinction Rebellion.

Visiting Extinction Rebellion’s website at https://rebellion.earth/, I found what should be of interest to communities in Western Mass. For many are well aware of the dangers of climate change and its realities in our own area. Hundreds have been involved in opposing the NED gas pipeline and similar projects. And we may know that it is those people around the world who are least prepared and contribute the least to the causes of global warming who are most affected. But what to do on a state and national level?

Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a response to the realities of climate changes that are drastic, and cannot be reversed or cleaned up, and of the need for emergency action to force attention and action for change.

The group formed just this past October in England, but is part of the activist group Rising Up, that practices nonviolent civil disobedience in various and creative ways. In a 50 minute video on the homepage of their website, Dr. Gail Bradbrook, of Rising Up and an XR founder, presents a packed program. It starts with the most recent scientific data around climate change and what it can mean. New information makes the timeframe shorter and more deadly. Her description of why putting yourself at risk of arrest, and agreeing to be part of a focused movement is itself moving.

Impressed, I signed up for more information, and found that among the list of new area groups forming there are in fact three in our great state: Boston, Cape Cod – and Western Mass! Right there above the last, Wyoming. An international time of actions is being planned for next March. Interest and sign-ups are growing internationally, as people fight despair on the subject with – if not hope – then courage.

Climate Crisis: “There Is No Time to Continue Down This Road Of Madness”

Originally published on  on PORTSIDE.

People attend a Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice demonstration before the final session of the COP24 U.N. Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 14., credit: Daily Sabah (Istanbul)

 

A week into the 2018 UN climate change conference convened in Poland, The New York Times’ quote of the day reads: “The biggest threats to the planet are the lack of U.S. climate leadership at home and the unwillingness of the U.S. to engage with China.”  The biggest threats to the planet!  Yet not until page 10 of that paper – after a good 3-4 pages of glitzy, consumerist ads and an article on a Spanish city trying to get rid of its pigeons – do we find a smallish piece of news on the climate conference.  Two days earlier, USA Today carried a brief news article touching on the fate of the planet, “Carbon dioxide emissions soar to record level,” placed on page 6.

At the climate conference’s wearied end on December 15, major newspapers carried somewhat flat, technocratic pieces, with relief expressed that that the US pulling out of the UN climate agreement by 2020 did not stop low bar progress and agreement.  Bangadeshi climate scientist, Saleemul Huq summed up more realistically the reality: The conference goals are “nowhere near ambitious enough to tackle” the climate emergency “at the scale we need to.”

Given that we are in the midst of record-setting climate extremes, why wasn’t news coverage of the 2018 UN climate conference front-page news in every newspaper in the country?  As was news during the Second World War.  And why didn’t news coverage, where it existed, convey the crisis of time – 11 years according to UN studies – we have to forestall global devastation at our current rate of climate change emissions.

Consider these findings from the most important document to come out during the Trump administration – the recent National Climate Assessment Report, Volume 2 produced by 13 federal agencies and some 3000 climate experts inside and outside of government. (The administration tried to bury the report by releasing it on the day after Thanksgiving, when half the country was frenzied by Black Friday shopping deals.)

  • Temperatures continue to rise: the 20 hottest years in recorded history have occurred in the last 22 years.   They will continue without aggressive action to reduce and eliminate coal, gas and oil.
  • The chance of extreme events – out-of-control wildfires, more severe hurricanes, longer droughts, intensifying rainfall, sea level rise, and salt water intrusion into drinking water – is increasing for each of these.
  • Agricultural productivity, already declining with climate change, will worsen under current trends in global warming emissions.
  • Water supplies are increasingly threatened with pollution runoff caused by extreme rainfall and toxic algae bloom from warmer air and water temperatures.
  •  Coastal communities, where 40 percent (or 126 million) of US people live, have multiple threats from sea level rise, flood damage and hurricanes, as we have seen in record-breaking intensity and destruction of Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Maria, Michael, and Florence.
  • One trillion dollars in public infrastructure (think subways, underground utility lines, and wastewater treatment plants), homes and roads are threatened by sea level rise, storm surges, and coastal flooding.
  • Human health impacts of climate warming put millions of US citizens at risk of early death from heat stroke, respiratory disease, spreading Lyme tick disease, and outbreaks of new diseases.
  • Without major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, temperatures could increase by 9 degrees Fahrenheit or more by end of century – guaranteeing an unlivable planet.

The US National Climate Assessment is the first national study to project a cost on all of the damages to human health, property, roads, rail and electricity, air and water quality due to global warming. While the Trump administration has walked away from facing facts about climate change and touts making our economy great again, expert economists forecast a decline of 10% in the economy by the end of this century, with business as usual.

As for global economy losses, many of the largest pension funds managers, insurers and financial assets managers warned the 190 countries convened at the UN climate conference that we face permanent economic catastrophe across the world unless we quickly phase out fossil fuels and replace them with efficiency and renewable energy.

In our country, will coastal cities be prepared to relocate millions of people and a trillion dollars of infrastructure with sea level rise? Will people in the Southeast be prepared for more wildfire and more extreme hurricanes, as forecast? Will Midwest farmers survive crop failures from longer droughts and declining irrigation water as predicted? Will the Southwest be prepared for more severe heat waves, increasing forest fires, water scarcity, and growing desert?  As for the West, the hellish wildfires in California forecast the future. Will New England be ready for the end of distinctive seasons and predicted flooding from extreme rainfall?

Magnify all of these natural disasters by many fold for poorer countries in Africa and Asia and Pacific islands – none of which has nearly contributed to climate change as has the U.S. and other industrial countries.

Since 2016, our government has launched efforts to overturn reductions in tailpipe emissions, lowered regulations on polluting coal power plants, opened up public land for fossil fuel exploration, and vowed to exit the from UN Climate Agreement in 2020 – the only country to do so.  In Trump’s benighted words, “his natural science instinct” tells him there is no climate change.

Humankind’s future depends on how swiftly the US and other countries replace fossil fuels with efficiency measures and renewable energy sources, reduce excessive consumption and prepare for climate disruption.

Greta Thunberg, the 15-year-old Swedish climate activist speaking at the UN climate conference on behalf of the global youth climate movement, nailed the problem for their future. Every day the world uses some 100 million barrels of oil, yet ”there are no politics to change that…no politics to keep the oil in the ground,” she said.  “So we can no longer save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed…Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago…There is no time to continue down this road of madness…We have come to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge.”

[Pat Hynes is a retired Professor of Environmental Health from Boston University and environmental engineer. She directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice in western Massachusetts.]

DISPATCHES: Is Change Coming? (The Climate Won’t Wait)

Dispatch #4

From Berlin, December 10, 2018

Anna Gyorgy

This is the fourth in a series of dispatches to the Montague Reporter and Traprock Center for Peace & Justice by Wendell resident Anna Gyorgy, reporting from Berlin.

 

Is Change Coming? (The Climate Won’t Wait)

Reports from Poland and France: Katowice and the COP24 climate conference

Every day during the UN climate conference, Climate Action Network (CAN) International awards a “Fossil of the Day Award.” On December 10th Austria got it for “failing as the (current) president of the EU to end subsidies to coal power plants in the current EU electricity market negotiations, while the the bloc underperforms on climate finance for developing countries, which are at the forefront of the worsening impacts of climate change.”

 

The fear that restrictive legislation passed by Poland’s right-wing government in early 2018 would be used to stifle climate activism at this year’s UN climate conference,
has been realized.

On December 7th, the Climate Action Network (CAN) of 1,300 environmental non-governmental organizations at the conference being held in Katowice from December 2-14. objected that Polish authorities had prevented at least 12 civil society group members from attending.

May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org, one of the CAN groups, said: “From what we understand the reasons for refusing entry are due to allegations that they are a ‘threat to national security’.” The German daily newspaper taz reported that three leading members of the Ukrainian environmental group Ecoaktion, a partner of leading German environmental organizations, were also denied entry at the border.

The annual demonstration for climate action was, quite different from the peaceful, spirited event last November in Bonn, which attracted some 30,000 people. On Saturday, December 8, around 4,000 people marched through city streets, surrounded by a contingent of 1,500 police in ‘robo-cop’ attire, with water cannons at the ready.

Meanwhile, inside the UN conference delegates sparred for almost 3 hours Saturday over wording on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC)

recent findings on the dangers of global warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7°F). Should the conference report “welcome” the scientific conclusions, or just “note” their report? The bombshell report had been requested by the UN conference in 2015. Its conclusions were that to keep average planetary warming under 2.7°F, CO2 emissions would have to be cut at least in half by 2030. So how it was received meant a lot to both fossil fuel supporters and opponents.

Saudi Arabia, the USA (despite Trump’s withdrawal, still legally part of the COP process until 2020), Russia and Kuwait supported just ‘noting’ the report, while a broad coalition of other countries thought it should be “welcomed”, and thus taken seriously. The result, recorded by the taz was: “no agreement; the subject was postponed to the next conference.” This kind of argumentation and blocking reflect why the UN climate conference process has been so slow and ineffective for more than two decades.

In Katowice, a city in a major coal area that is slowly weaning itself from open coal heaters and power plants, the ongoing struggle between the fossil past and the solar transition is clearer than ever. But the fight over what green energy will look like goes beyond opposing coal.

There is also opposition to a new generation of major international European gas pipelines and infrastructure, as well as a movement against accepting burning of wood as a source of ‘green energy.’

More on that can be found in CAN’s “One Week Down” digital newsletter (http://eco.climatenetwork.org/cop24-eco6/), which also announced the arrival of the Climate Pilgrims to COP24. The group, which started its pilgrimage at the Vatican on October 4, walked some 950 miles through seven countries, holding climate-related workshops and meetings in local communities. In Katowice they are calling on the COP24 delegates “to respond to the recent IPCC report and take ambitious action to keep global warming to 1.5°C (2.7’ F).”

After researching and writing this article, based in Berlin, I watched Democracy Now!’s first day of reporting from Katowice. Amy Goodman and colleagues are there for the second week of the COP, as in years past, and as before their coverage is impressive. For daily reports from Katowice and COP24, do check their December 10-14 programs at www.democracynow.org/

 “Yellow Vests” continue protests in France

 While the sky may be clouded by smoke from coal fires in Katowice, tear gas spread over parts of central Paris on past weekends, as police struck against blockades and demonstrations spreading across the country.

These concern climate policies too. For the mass protests, with violence from the “forces of order” as well as some among the demonstrating crowds, began in reaction to an increased tax on diesel fuel. This was part of a series of reforms from French President Emmanuel Macron to encourage people to drive less, buy more efficient cars, and submit to more rigorous emissions tests. In other words, it was part of his plan for an energy transition away from fossil fuels.

The yellow vests worn by protesters are required in all French cars in case of emergency. For many living outside the urban centers with their relatively good public transportation this tax and price increase was an emergency, seen as a dictate from above by a government of and favoring the rich. The well-off had received tax breaks, while those struggling to get by had to bear yet another tax imposed from above. As the Brussels-based author of a long analysis on the movement put it, “President Macron’s climate policy is only apparently ecological, but is above all anti-social.”

Opposition to what was seen as an unfair tax has broadened into a major social movement against economic injustice and lack of democracy, with political groups from both the right and left supporting and trying to define the goals of the movement. The situation in France will continue to develop, but, parallel to the international climate convention going on in Poland, it sends a message to all national leaders that solving or even addressing the climate crisis cannot be done through heavy-handed, undemocratic actions from above.

 

DISPATCHES: Anna Gyorgy on coal protests in Germany during UN climate summit in Poland

December 3, 2018 (published December 6)

 

 

Kale not Coal in Germany: on stage and in the streets

Wendell resident Anna Gyorgy continues her November-December reporting from Germany for the Traprock Center for Peace & Justice – and the Montague Reporter.

 

By ANNA GYORGY

COLOGNE – Seeing “Kale not Coal” on a homemade sign yesterday made me feel right at home. (It rhymes in German, too.)

This was at one of two German climate “double demos” on Saturday, December 1, just before the opening of the COP24 international climate conference in Katowize, Poland. Itself a long time center of coal production.

Why did over 36,000 people take to the streets of Berlin and Cologne on a cool, windy day?

To demand a quick and “socially responsible” exit from coal, and a clean energy future to benefit all. More specifically by:

  • implementing the Paris Agreement: tightening climate goals and supporting poor countries and those most affected by climate change;
  • shutting down half of Germany’s coal-powered capacity quickly enough to meet the government’s climate goals for 2020;
  • adopting a timetable for rapid phase-out of coal, to meet Paris agreement and national climate goals;
  • stopping all plans for new coal-fired power plants, open pit mining and their expansion; and
  • supporting workers in affected coal regions in a process of social-ecological change.

The event organizers included 11 major environmental, religious and activist organizations, supported by almost 40 others, including left and green parties. Three others were related youth groups, carrying an especially urgent message.

“Our generation should have the last word on this, not the Coal Commission,” said one student representative. She criticized this commission for delays in planning the future of coal in Germany, and for excluding youth – all commission members but one being over 50 years old. “We will be here in 50 years, and facing the results,” she said. “Act today, not tomorrow!”

Berlin being an active capital city, several other demonstrations were happening at the same time, so an estimated 16,000 people showing up for climate action was considered good. Meanwhile, at least 20,000 rallied in Cologne, next to the dramatically low Rhine River, within view of the historic Cologne Cathedral.

After a summer of high temperatures and no rain, the dangerously low levels of the iconic river have economic as well as ecological effects. Coal, gasoline, and all kinds of freight are regularly transported on this river highway. But now gas must be trucked to waiting stations to assure a steady supply of fuel, which of course creates more pollution.

Just days before these demonstrations and the UN climate summit, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced that global warming continued this year, with 2018 the fourth-hottest year on record, just behind 2015, 2016 and 2017. “The 20 warmest… have been in the past 22 years,” they added.

“The report shows that the global average temperature for the first ten months of the year was nearly 1°C… based on five independently maintained global temperature data sets.”

For those wanting plenty of disturbing but important data on temperature increases and how excess heat is absorbed – for instance, that “more than 90% of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases goes into the oceans” –  download the WMO’s “Provisional Statement on the State of the Climate in 2018.”

“We are not on track to meet climate change targets and rein in temperature increases,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas concluded. “It is worth repeating once again,” he added, “that we are the first generation to fully understand climate change, and the last generation to be able to do something about it.”

A Social “Tipping Point”?

In Germany, as well as California and hopefully the US and world as a whole, the reality that climate disruption is upon us and can only get worse seems to have reached a tipping point of its own this past summer. Demonstrators mentioned several times that the demand for major and rapid action on climate has now reached what is called here “the middle of society.”

In other words, it is not just those fringe types any more, the ones committing civil disobedience for years now, trying in ever greater numbers to shut down – at least symbolically – the enormous excavators ripping into exposed layers of coal. Or those camping out in makeshift treehouses to save the remaining acres of the historic Hambacher Forest, north of Cologne, threatened by clear-cutting to get at the rich brown coal below.

These nonviolent direct actions against coal development started small, but have grown in recent years. The pictures and message of thousands of young people streaming onsite to stop open pit mining, if even for a few hours, began to reach into every German living room. (Short videos of these actions, with English translations, are online at www.ende-gelaende.org/en/.)

Hambi Stays!

In mid-September 2018, the unnecessarily aggressive police eviction of tree sitters in the Hambacher Forest, and the arrest of many, brought sympathy and support for the forest and ecosystem defenders. And grief: during the eviction action, a student reporter filming the event fell to his death. Although an “accident,” it would not have happened without the rough police actions.

The climate activists’ dedication, and a positive court decision on October 5 in favor of a Friends of the Earth court case stopping the forest clearing for now, brought a huge wave of support. A rally planned for October 6 to protect the Hambacher Forest (“Hambi Stays!”) swelled to 50,000 participants. Regular Sunday “forest walks” continue to attract large numbers, drawn to the dramatic struggle for trees over coal.

And so, the slogan “Hambi Stays!” was heard echoing across the Cologne and Berlin demonstrations, and green flags from that movement waved in the wind. I plan to unpack mine at our next Wendell Energy Committee meeting, on Thursday evening, December 20.

It represents a challenge to all of us to engage in climate activism as strongly as we can – as individuals, but especially as communities.